A couple of months back my wife and I were playing a card game with friends – the type where it asked you a bunch of random questions. One of the cards asked – ‘what device would you take with you if your house was on fire? It was obvious the game was a few years back because we all gave the same answer – we’d take our phone.
In many ways our whole lives are on our phones these days – I’ve just started using the calendar on my new phone and wondered why I’d never done so before. We don’t just make calls and send texts, we organise life on our phone and get lots of our information and entertainment from it. I now use my phone for Bible reading and prayer lists as well as the odd look at the BBC Sport website (okay a couple of dozen looks a day!)
We have just had ‘scroll free September’, which encouraged people to take a month off social media. This was promoted by Public Health England on the basis that while there are positive things about smart phones there are also harmful side effects like sleep issues, cyberbullying and negative body image.
It’s undoubtedly true that there are dangers – I wrote a piece some months back (http://www.daveluckwrites.co.uk/2018/04/21/far-from-reality/) about the ways an internet age is damaging for young people, in particular in warping their views of themselves. We want our young people to grow up having real relationships with actual people face to face rather than being defined by messages through their screen.
So I get the idea behind scroll free September but I didn’t cease scrolling. The point for me is not to alter behaviour for a month but to seek to have a balanced approach. If a month’s pause helps people find that then that’s great – my starting point is that social media and smart phones are here to stay so rather than resisting them we should use them wisely.
The medium of course is not the problem but how it’s used. There is nothing intrinsically bad in social media or the internet, any more than past fears about TV or the hilarious idea in some sections of the church in the past that rock music was evil (which begged the question at what point when you turn up the dial on the amp does it become satanic?) The issue is how we use social media – is it a source of blessing others or avoiding things that are important; does it help us access information that helps us grow or does it lead us into unhealthy territory?
As with many things we need to control our use of social media rather than have it control us. Some thoughts:
- As parents we need to think through at what age our kids get a phone, get access to social media and should be able to discuss with them how they use it
- As parents we need to ensure our children get exposure to the real world – seeing people, going places etc
- As parents we need to model responsible phone and social media use. If we can’t put our phones down why should we expect our children to?
- We should aim to use social media for a purpose rather than just idling time away on it, i.e. communicating with someone or responding to their communication not just flicking endlessly. This is the same as surfing the web or channel hopping – I’m a lot less likely to view stuff I shouldn’t if I only go to specific sites or channels to get to something specific
It should be easier for those of us who’ve not always had all this at our fingertips to detach ourselves from it. The danger is that our phones can consume us and rather than making the world bigger, as they promise – by giving us access to so much – they make the world smaller by cutting us off from meaningful interaction with people, which enriches us more than anything else.
For me, the solution rather than an all or nothing approach (where we try and purge phone use only to lapse back to it) is to find a balanced middle way. As a follower of Jesus this middle way or narrow path as Jesus called it is accessed by prayer asking the Spirit to shape and guide and by accountability where I know things are not going well.
I doubt many people will get far trying to detox social media use. Far better to relegate its place in our lives and promote all the stuff we know does us good – family activity, (properly) catching up with friends and all those hobbies and pursuits we never quite get round to. If FOMO is your problem be assured your phone is not the answer.